Celtics eye East finals sweep, but Pacers won’t back down

The Boston Celtics are in the driver’s seat but Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle says his club will be controlling the throttle in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.

There’s no reason for Indiana to do anything other than push the pedal to the medal on Monday night in Indianapolis since no team has recovered from a 3-0 deficit in NBA playoff history.

“We’re not going to be deterred,” Carlisle said of the mountain to navigate. “We’re going to be back here Monday night looking to extend the series and we’re going to come at it even harder. We have to. We don’t have a choice. … Believe me, we are going after them.”

While the Pacers will stay off the brakes, the Celtics will be trying to close the door on the series.

Top-seeded Boston moved within one victory of advancing to the East finals for the second time in three seasons by rallying from an 18-point, third-quarter deficit to post a 114-111 road victory in Game 3 on Saturday.

“We’ve met every challenge,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said. “We’re in great position right now, one win away from the finals. But we can’t look past Monday or anything like that, and we have a special opportunity to go back to the finals.”

Indiana played without All-NBA third-team selection Tyrese Haliburton in Game 3 and also could be without the star point guard’s services on Monday. Carlisle said he had no injury update to provide during his Sunday media availability.

Haliburton injured his left hamstring in the first half of Game 2 and exited for good in the third quarter. In Game 1, he had 25 points and 10 assists when the Pacers fell 133-128 in overtime.

Haliburton was missed down the stretch in Game 3. Indiana led by eight with 2:38 to play before Boston closed the game with a decisive 13-2 burst.

Celtics point guard Jrue Holiday, who was ill most of the day, was fully revved up for the finish line.

Holiday converted a go-ahead three-point play with 38 seconds left and added a key steal with 3.3 seconds to play when he forced the ball away from Indiana’s Andrew Nembhard. Holiday added two free throws with 1.7 seconds remaining for the final margin.

Celtics veteran Al Horford, who also starred with 23 points and a career-best seven 3-pointers, was amazed with Holiday’s stellar steal.

“That was unbelievable. That was an unbelievable play,” Horford said. “A guy coming full speed and him having the instincts to do that. He’s just a winner. Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to. He stepped up in a big way for us.”

Holiday, who wasn’t cleared to play until approximately 45 minutes before tipoff, finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and three steals.

Tatum also stood out for Boston with 36 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Despite the late turnover, Nembhard excelled with the best performance of his two-year NBA career with a career-high 32 points to go with nine assists in 39 minutes. He made four 3-pointers and was a prime reason why Indiana built the 18-point bulge.

“It’s just one of those things where it was next guy up and I think Andrew Nembhard took his game to another level tonight,” said Pacers reserve T.J. McConnell, who had 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists. “But he’s been playing at a high level all year and has really, really stepped his game up in the postseason. We aren’t in that position without him.”

Indiana promises to put up another fight while Tatum repeatedly professes the following: “Closeout games are the hardest. … Never relax. It’s never over until it’s over.”

At the same time, Carlisle continues to insist there is plenty of life left in the Pacers.

“We came up a little short but we will be back on Monday and we will be punching even harder,” he said.

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